Peru, part 13
I wake up in the middle of the night to Paul saying “do you hear that”, something is outside our cabin. I listen carefully and sure enough I hear munching and snuffling below our window. We grab our headlights that are on our bed stands and shine the lights through the window. There is a big tapir snuffling and browsing in the small square of grass and shrubs in front of our bungalow. The lights disrupt the nocturnal beasts grazing and he ambles off for a darker more peaceful place. Will and Beckka’s cabin next to us is lit up with candles so they must have just returned from the tapir lick. We ask the couple in the morning if they saw our night visitor to which they answer no. They didn’t see any tapirs at the lick and can’t believe they had one outside their door. However, they did see a jaguar track on the trail coming home. Are you kidding me!
Ugh, another 4:30 wakeup call as we must leave Manu early to travel by river, land and plane today in order to reach Cusco. One thing we are happy about in leaving Manu is that we don’t have to wear these blasted rubber boots anymore. Paul, me and the other guests will share one of the wooden boats on our first leg of the journey our destination being Colorado Village. We eat breakfast by candlelight and reach the dock in time to enjoy a splendid sunrise painting the sky and river in vivid colors.
As we travel down the river we run in and out of a misty haze making for a surreal landscape. There are several birding surprises such as the very rare Orinoco goose which I found myself! Jose Luis finds a southern caracara and retorts that this bird shouldn’t be here. I look in my bird book later and indeed the big relative of falcons is listed as a rare visitor of the savannahs in South America. What the heck is it doing here? Paul and I laugh as Jose Luis and William (Will and Bekka’s guide) talk birds for the entire two and a half hour river trip! Many of our shipmates fall asleep after we have been on the river awhile. Paul and I aren’t among them as there is plenty to see whether it be birds, the beauty of the jungle or the human activity we pass by.
We dock at Colorado Village and laugh at the way we must disembark our river boat. We walk upon planks lying over the top of numerous wooden boats that are between us and the shore. At times the ends of the planks stick over the edge of a boat so we must step off of the board before you reach the end of it. If you don’t step off in time you could set off a three stooge’s type reaction, similar to stepping on a rake and having the handle jump up and slap you in the face. Good Grief. We all make it to shore without falling off or performing an impromptu comedy skit.
Upon reaching land the first thing we see is an open-air chicha bar replete with colorful plastic chairs and tables. A couple of dogs are lounging in front of the bar and chickens cluck while scratching in the dirt. A delivery man has brought a batch of chicha, bottled in the usual plastic jugs, via a three-wheeled bicycle and cart. Looking down the muddy, pothole filled road we see a weathered blue building with copacabana painted on the side. Colorado village is a gold mining town replete with rundown houses and shacks that look like a stiff wind would blow them over. It doesn’t appear that very many people have struck it rich.
Jose Luis leaves us by the river while he and the other two guides go in search of taxis. Before long Jose Luis returns with a car and driver. Paul and I pile our backpacks in the trunk of the small sedan and then we are bumping our way down the road through the seedy town. Once we are free of the village the road becomes rougher and we often drive over plank bridges most of which are in bad repair. Some of the bridges have loose or even missing boards. Our driver is very careful when crossing the sorry excuses for bridges but it is still nerve-wracking. In places there are no bridges and so we drive through shallow water.
There is plenty to look at including cattle wandering down the road and other pastoral scenes along the way. There are blue morpho butterflies floating over and alongside the country road. I begin to count the metallic blue beauties and at one point ask if we can stop at the next butterfly sighting in hopes I can capture one in a photo. The driver willingly complies and I step out to see if a winged subject is willing to pose for me. A big beauty is sitting on the road but as I prepare to push the shutter button the silly thing flutters away. As I try to follow the blue morpho with my camera I am turning in circles trying to get the large butterfly in focus. I can hear Paul laughing and I can’t help but laugh too when I think how silly I must look. I counted 56 blue morphos and who knows how many I didn’t see!
After 45 minutes of jarring road and dubious bridges we arrive at Puerto Carlos where Jose Luis and William procure a boat to ferry us across to Santa Rosa. Will, Bekka, Paul and I climb aboard the old wooden boat that has planks laid across the top edges of the boat for seats. Lovely. After the fifteen minute ride across the Inambari River we again find ourselves “walking the plank” to reach the shore. There is a white van waiting to transport the seven of us to the airport so it is time to say goodbye to Jose Luis. We have become friends with the young man who proved to be a great birder and a fun, interesting person. We have William take a photo of the three of us and then climb aboard the van.
It is a two-hour drive to the airport in Puerto Maldonado City. The roads are paved and there is plenty of interesting scenery along the way including picturesque villages along with small farms and ranches. We are all booked on the same flight and so we sit together in the small, hot airport. Thank goodness the flight is on time and we are more than happy to exit the sticky room to board the plane.
The flight to Cusco takes an hour and as we walk into the airport we say goodbye to everyone we have been with the past several days. When we walk outside we look through all the name placards being held up by people and are discouraged when the name Miller isn’t one of them. There is a passenger area outside that has a barrier around it separating us from the sign holders and private taxi drivers but an airport guard raises a bar and gestures for us to leave. We no sooner step out of the passenger zone when we are approached by a man asking us if we need a taxi. The man speaks fluent English but he sets my red flag alarm off. I don’t like the way he is assessing our back packs and us in general. Another well-dressed man, also speaking fluent English and carrying a briefcase, approaches us and says he will take us where we need to go. We insist that our people will be here soon but they are relentless in their pitch to take us to our hotel. Paul has walked around to where he can read the signs again and the fellow that makes me so nervous comes over and stands behind me. I immediately leave and go stand by a policeman who is near the barrier where Paul is too. This took care of the smarmy guy in a hurry.
The man with the briefcase follows us however and asks where we are staying and foolishly we tell him the Maytaq. He walks away then comes back saying that he has the hotel on the phone and hands it to me. I take the phone with alarm bells going off and listen to a voice saying he us from the hotel and he needs to ask me a couple of questions. I suddenly realize what a setup this is and hand the phone back, angrily telling the burly man this could be anyone on the phone. Finally an airport worker takes pity on us and tells us to come back inside the barricade where it is safe. Jeez, now I know how it feels to have vultures circling around you!
We need to call the agency but we did not bring our agency packet with us. I know, stupid, but we were traveling so light we left behind all we felt we wouldn’t need. Fortunately, Paul remembers that in his passport cover he has a number given to him by the young woman, Zanita (sp) that met us on our initial arrival in Cusco. Paul finds a pay phone inside the airport and makes the phone call. Luckily, Zanita answers her phone and immediately tells Paul she will deal with the situation. The woman is true to her word and within 20 minutes a man arrives asking for Mike Miller. At first we are suspicious because he has the first name wrong but he makes a phone call and tells us Paul’s name, my name and that we have been at Manu. O.K this satisfies both of us and with relief we follow the man to the van. We are further put to ease as the van has a company name on its side. We never found out why we were not met at the airport and no tips were given to anyone after we arrived at Maytaq. Our travel agency was not responsible for this gaffe since they subcontracted our jungle trip to another company who was responsible. They sure fixed our problem in a hurry though.
So why didn’t we just take a taxi to the hotel instead of going to all this trouble? In researching Peru there are warnings about using taxis that aren’t designated official taxis and it’s very hard to determine those that are “official”. People may find themselves being taken for a ride literally as the driver will pick up cohorts after tourists are in his car and then they rob them of their money and valuables. I talked to a friend after we came home and she actually knew someone who was a victim of this very scam. That is the reason for our reluctance to just hop in a so-called taxi.
The staff at Maytaq welcomes us warmly and shows us to our room. We go out in search of a good restaurant to wind down after our unpleasant experience today. We settle on Rosie’s Irish pub and despite the name we enjoy some excellent Peruvian food. Well, we can’t say today wasn’t interesting!